The RDV Group InfoSec Blog

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Republican Spyware?

Minnesota Public Radio had an eye-opening piece yesterday (03/01) about a GOP informational CD being distributed: "On Monday, the Minnesota Republican Party announced that it will send out CD videos on Friday to inform voters about the importance of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage."

So far so good. But it appears that there's an element to the CD that users may not know about: "It turns out the CD is also being used to add to the GOP voter database. Officials with the Republican Party say certain voter data is being collected by the party...
At the CD's unveiling, he (Republican Party Chair Ron Carey) never mentioned that the party is also using the video to collect information about those who view the video...It's not clear on the Republican CD that the data is being transmitted back to the Republicans, or even what other data about the user is being extracted and sent."

The CD is now coming under fire from privacy advocates: "Internet privacy experts say they're concerned that the party isn't telling the viewer that it's collecting the data and worry where the information will end up...
They argue that someone who submits a survey on those sites is actively providing information."

EPIC also has something to say: "Lillie Coney, the associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, says the GOP CD should clearly indicate that the packet is not only a video on gay marriage, but a tool to collect voter data."

Spyware is often defined as software that: "... that covertly gathers user information through the user's Internet connection without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes. Spyware applications are typically bundled as a hidden component of freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from the Internet. Once installed, the spyware monitors user activity on the Internet and transmits that information in the background to someone else."

Although the information gleaned may be used innocuously, it still qualifies as spyware.


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